Sunday, November 2, 2008

Create Better Performing Assets

In the following issue I will be addressing a few concerns that all email marketers come across at one time. Successful email campaigns take considerable effort to acheive. Unfortunately, blindly sending emails is not enough because if "undelivered" the emails become useless no matter how interesting the content may be. It requires a lot of testing, delivery assurance and tweaking assets for optimal performance. If the customer never sees it, it is ineffective. I will be discussing the following topics:

Topic 1: Subject Line Length
Topic 2: Designing Creatives
General Tips: Unrecognized characters in text creatives

Hopefully the topics discussed, will help you create better performing assets.

Topic 1: Subject Line Length
The issue of subject line length has been a matter of debate amongst marketers. How long should an email subject line be? A good rule to follow is anything longer than 55 characters, this includes spaces, will be cut off. However, many people agree that 35 is a better number to aim for. All this only matters, if response rates are shown to be affected by subject lines and reports confirm they do. Subject lines longer than 50 characters show a decrease in response rates (measured by clicks). Meanwhile emails containing 49 or fewer characters had click through rates that were 75% higher and open rates that were 12.5% higher. There are always exceptions and the only way you will know what works for you is to test subject lines on your lists. However, keep in mind sometimes less can be more.

Topic 2: Designing Creatives
Now, let’s discuss creative design. The way a creative is designed does affect deliverability and response rates. A common mistake made by email campaign designers is they create emails to be viewed in its entirety -- i.e. understanding a web browser look is different than what an email will render once it reaches an ISP. Unfortunately, emails don’t work that way. They are scrolled through and in small windows. That means the most important part of the email needs to be on the top part of the page, the part recipients view immediately. Graphics can also be a source of problem for email marketers because some mail servers like Gmail or Outlook 2003 don’t display images by default. This means, if the majority of your creative is a graphic some users will see nothing.

General Tips: Unrecognized characters in text creatives
As a rule of thumb, text creatives must never be created in word processing documents such as MS Word. The problem arises while saving and converting the creative to text format. During conversion formatted characters are left behind within the text. Although these characters will render correctly on the computer screen, when it reaches it's destination the characters are unrecognizable and are replaced with default characters depending on the ISP and desktop email application. The most common characters that I have seen cause this problem are: " , ; ' among others. The best way to avoid this probelm is to build the text creative in Notepad.

Having said that, If you need to convert your word document into a text file, begin by saving it as a text file, then open the file in WordPad and save the file as a "Text Document – MS-DOS Format". This will convert the text and remove all residual formatting from MS Word. Please note that foreign languages using special characters may be changed to default.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Email Marketing- Strategic Targeting > Mass Lists

Here at KobeMail, we know a thing or two about email marketing. We have been a go-to source to a variety of companies for over eight years when it comes to email marketing. While technology is always becoming more advanced, the importance of strategy has always remained the same.

Email marketing has been a staple in the digital age. However, with the economic downturn came a more aggressive approach from marketers to push their message via email in an attempt to generate more leads and drive more sales. The attitude that these marketers embodied was “sell to anyone,” which can have long-lasting negative effects on their product and company.

You should take a step back and analyze their approach. Strategy needs to be the first step in their marketing campaign. A relevant message sent to a targeted audience will lead to higher revenue and a better chance of retaining your clients.

Before approaching prospective clients through email marketing, you should analyze a few things, beginning with their audience. Most companies tend to think about their own needs first, most importantly their revenue. Building relationships with the subscribers is key to a long lasting, profitable relationship. You need to create content that is meaningful to the specific target audience.

The second step is to think beyond the product. When you push your product, most people tend to boast how great the products are rather than focusing on how they can provide a resolution to a customer’s problem. You should take a step back, put themselves in the shoes of the recipient, and ask “What’s in it for me?”

Companies that utilize email marketing should always think quality over quantity. Most marketers, when talking about email marketing, tend to focus on “How many email names are in my list?” You really should be thinking about the quality of those leads. The real metric should not be the number of emails, but rather the revenue per lead.

Email marketing seems to prioritize tactics over strategy. In order to conduct a successful email marketing campaign, there needs to be substantial strategic planning that precedes the delivery. The focus of the campaign needs to be on relevant content rather than mass appeal. Proper strategy will identify quality leads, which in turn will drive revenue.

KobeMail has always been a leader in the email marketing field, but we are looking forward to helping our clients in new ways. Aside from handling their emailing needs, we are reviewing case studies about campaigns that worked, and those that haven’t, so we can offer strategy based advice to our clients. Improvement is key, and we strive to improve not only our own business, but the business of our clients!

Author: Peter Schirripa
Editor: Courtney Dillsworth

Friday, August 1, 2008

Knowledge is Power Part II - Hotmail Spam Filters

Hello again. In my last article, I discussed the mechanism of how AOL Spam Filters operate. Continuing on the subject on Spam Filters, in this issue I will focus on Microsoft’s Hotmail Filter and delve into the basic Anti-Spam architecture and how it affects your email campaigns.

Microsoft uses multi-level spam filters for all inbound emails. The first level is the blacklist and volume filter check -- where your IP and sender domain are checked against Microsoft’s internal and 3rd party blacklists. Both throttling and blocking of connecting Mail Transfer Agent (MTAs) also happens at this level.

The email then passes through Brightmail’s spam filter and Smart Screen (Microsoft’s proprietary content Spam filter) and then is checked for
whitelisting of the IP and sender domain against safe-lists and Sender Score. After passing this phase, it is verified for authentication i.e. SenderID -- which confirms sender domain is approved to be sent via the sending IP address. The recipient filter then checks if the from-address has been setup in the Recipient’s address book. A score is produced which determines the placement of your mail (Inbox, Junk or Trash).

Hotmail uses mailing history as one of the main determinant for placement of mails into the inbox. New IPs with no mailing history has a harder time for inbox placement compared to an old IP with reputation. Mailers can achieve and build this reputation by sending smaller volume regularly (5-10K per day) rather than large volumes infrequently. The consistency in the mailing has proved to have better performance on campaigns due to higher
deliverability. Also keep in mind that, Hotmail does not use user’s address book as the determinant factor for mail placement unlike AOL -- as the address book is referenced late in the filtering hierarchy.

Over 30% of spam today is image spam, messages containing solely of one or multiple images, and Hotmail flags 90% of emails a day as spam.
SPF, SenderID, and DomainKeys/DKIM records are very important to get your emails delivered along with Sender Score, Bonded Sender programs and Reputation of the sender.

Finally, the key to the inbox of Hotmail is heavily dependent on the reputation. The reputation metrics consists for three things:

Spam Complaints: Number of users reporting your campaign as spam
-- Unknown User Bournce Rates: Bad/Inactive email addresses
-- Spam Traps: Emails addresses acquired by harvesting or that was purchased

This is where emphasis on managing feedback loops, bounce management, and carefully selecting your data providers becomes critical and essential to building your reputation.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Stay off the Dreaded Blacklist

Most email marketers know about the Can-Spam Act. If you want to stay off the dreaded Blacklist you should follow these simple protocols. When it comes to being in compliance with the Can-Spam act it is simple. You don’t want to run the risk of receiving a penalty that can cost your company time and expense .You want to make sure that you are on the whitelist or that the customer has your domain saved in the address book.

Simple steps you can follow:

  • Keep an eye on your reputation- Make sure you stay up on the law of the Can-Spam act.

  • Allow users to add their email to your list via your web site.

  • Collect email addresses when in contact with customers to build your list of wanted users.

  • Do not use misleading subject lines or headers

  • - The subject line should accurately state what content the email contains. Use Call to action to increase Opens.

    - The “From” , “To” and “Reply-to” email address and domain should state the company the email is coming from

  • There should always be a valid physical address on each email sent out.

  • Allow your users to opt out on receiving emails. This can lessen the chance of more users placing your email in spam to get rid of receiving emails from your company.

  • If a user chooses to unsubscribe or opt out on receiving emails from your company you should honor the request within 10 days the latest.

  • Manage and know what other companies you have hired to do any email advertising for your company.

  • - You want to make sure that they are in compliance as well

It is best practice to stay off spam lists. You want your message to be heard. Being in compliance with the Can-Spam Act will help you stay off the dreaded Blacklist. For more information search Can-Spam Act.

Author: Amarilys Rivera
Editor: Roopal Rawani

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Knowledge is Power Part I - AOL Spam Filters

Let me try and shed some light on AOL’s basic anti-spam architecture as a process flow and how it affects inbound email. There are three main types of spam filters that AOL uses i.e. blacklist filter, reputation filter, and a whitelist filter.

A blacklist filter is when an email is checked against AOL’s internal blacklist. If the sender domain is blacklisted, the mail will be blocked. The reputation filter then reviews the reputation metrics in the form of “abuse data” (spam complaints and spam traps). Once it passes the two filters, the domain is checked by a whitelist filter where it runs a check if the from-address (consisting of the domain) is in the recipient’s address book or if the IP and Domain are on any of their whitelists. Being on AOL’s whitelist allows emails to go through and be place directly into the inboxes with images displayed.

There are more filters used by AOL. However, if enhanced whitelisting status has been achieved with AOL then some or all of these following filters are bypassed. These filters include volume filters, content filters and recipient filters. If the sender domain or IP is not on AOL’s whitelist, the email is then routed through AOL's volume filters. The content filters then applies its proprietary content filtering and Bayesian filtering rules. Recipient Filters are when an email may pass a domain block, recipients personal Bayesian (defined by previous actions) rules or recipient’s personal filters. If an email does not pass these filters the email will be delivered, but then placed in the spam folder or completely blocked.

The best way to improve deliverability with AOL is to setup a Feedback Loop with them to reduce the number of complaints they receive from their end users. AOL has also planned to introduce SPF & DKIM into the reputation model soon. This means they will be using it as a means of authentication and reputation checking for connecting IPs as an added data point to help them determine the final status of email. Keeping content relevant and fresh along with emailing to active users also helps in increasing deliverability.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Common Deliverability Issues Revealed

Wonder what causes delivery issues? Here are just a few reasons as to why your message may not be delivered properly or in a timely manner to the inbox:

Sender Reputation - This element consists of list hygiene, message quality, subscriber engagement and complaint rates. Keeping a good standing with ISPs is important in determining whether your message gets to the Inbox, goes sent to spam, or gets blocked all together.

Spam Trap – ISPs frequently use deactivated email address accounts with the intention of trapping illegitimate senders.  Using purchased lists, whose integrity are in question, is not advised. It’s better to have a healthy list than a long list.

Volume – Spammers tend to send in large bulk trying to hit as many people as they can with the same sort of offers. You might have a large list but if you cleanse on a regular basis and keep a good reputation with the ISPs it will help avoid being blocked.

Authentication – Allows the ISP to know that you, the sender, are in fact the actual sender. Make sure you receive the proper authentication before sending in bulk.

Hardbounce rate – Removing unknown email addresses can help avoid getting trapped in a spam filters. Cleansing your list is important to avoid delivery issues.

Complaint Rate – Having users unsubscribe should not be seen as a bad thing. If users unsubscribed from receiving your emails this is the best and friendliest way. Allowing the users to unsubscribe easily may help with lowering the chances of them complaining as spam.

Consider these reasons regarding why your message may be seeing delivery issues and work toward establishing a better reputation with the ISPs. Here at KobeMail we understand these causes and work closely with our clients on eliminating the above causes.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Outlook 2003 says Junk It!

Gmail …: Inbox
Yahoo …: Inbox
Hotmail …: Inbox

AOL ...: Inbox
Outlook 2003 …: JUNK!

Time and time again we face the same problem of creatives being classified as Junk mail on desktop applications -- when they are reaching the Inbox of major ISPs. While whitelisting and
authentication entries can take you to inboxes on large ISPs, it does not help much on desktop applications.

Outlook 2003 is one of the more used email desktop applications. The first thing we have to understand about desktop applications is that:

:: The filtering aspects are different
:: The filters are user defined

…and outlook 2003 is no different. Over a 100 million people use Outlook as their email application which means it is likely that your users may be among them. Getting your email communication out to them is of utmost importance, as one user not receiving the communication is one lost source of revenue – if you are a business.

We have to better understand how we can reach these users; we have to understand the tools they use to read your communication. Here is some insight of how an outlook filter works, and why your creatives maybe rotting in a Junk folder waiting to be deleted.

Message Sending Time Check – Weekends are a bad time to send a campaign to your users who use Outlook. The filters give it a higher score and are more likely to end up in the Junk folder than if the mailing was sent on a weekday.

Upper Case in Messages - If the message contains around 25% or more uppercase words, it classifies the message as SPAM. Avoid Uppercases both in subject lines and body of the messages as a rule of thumb for all your communication.

Numbers and Symbols - If the content has close to 8% or more numbers and symbols, the message is classified as SPAM. As an example for $100, avoid using “$” signs or “100” values – instead use “One hundred dollars”.

Duplicate Check – Outlook filters checks for duplicates. The more the repetition of the same word, the higher the weighted SPAM score and more likely the message will end up in Junk.

User Settings - User settings most often send the emails to Junk. Ask your users to whitelist your IP or domain.

The above are some of the pointers for better deliverability to the inbox in Outlook. Look to next week when I delve into the filter aspects of Hotmail Live, Yahoo, Comcast and AOL --- and not in that specific order.

Happy Mailing!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Email Campaign Creative - 101 - Part Deux

As promised here is the continuation from my last post on creating effective creatives optimized for deliverability. These are some of the things I continually advise my production team and clients to focus on. Although following some of these may cause the creatives to loose some luster, at the end of the day deliverability is all that matters, and getting through to your consumers. So here are some more tid bits for your creatives --

Height and Length of Logo / Banner: The length of the logo/banner should be equal or less than 600 pixels. The width should be proportionate and ideally under 100 pixel range. Anything over will be one blocked image in the preview pane until the user allows images to be downloaded

Font Size: Medium font size is recommended for all creative, as large fonts within the creative affect the SPAM score and increase based on repetitive usage.

Tables: Avoid using excessive tables and/or nested tables within the creative. When images are blocked, this can cause the creatives to look broken and the text out of place.

Image Dimensions: The height and width should be defined for all images in the creative within the image source tag. This will make the creative text readable even if the images are blocked.

RTF Images: RTF images are not recommended as it's become a spamming mechanism -- so while it can get images opened, you risk getting put on a SPAM list by a user who has created a filter for this.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Email Campaign Creative - 101 - Part 1

Create campaigns that are great looking with a focus on deliverability and maintaining creative conformity when received by the ISPs. Here are some of my suggestions:

CSS Styles: Yes they look GREAT when used on a website but for email creatives its a big AVOID. Creatives that are heavy on the CSS styles have a low text to html ratio low. CSS should be avoided in emails as they will be ignored by most web clients. Style sheets (inline or external) will be ignored by Yahoo/Gmail. Instead it is advised to use inline table styles for all your styling requirements within a creative.

Clean and Smooth Transition: Creatives should be clean and must have smooth transition between image and text from top to bottom ---limiting to a maximum of one column where text is displayed. Adding multiple columns of text and images causes the creative to break when the images are not displayed -- currently a standard practice by most web based and pc based email clients. To attain a cleaner and more presentable look, we recommend that you do not exceed more than one column for your email creatives where text is displayed. This will not only make your creatives look more professional, but also when images are disabled it will make the email acceptable as well as readable. It also makes it easier to convince the ISPs that the Newsletter is legitimate--because of the look of the creative--and not intended as SPAM, when someone reports the email.

Backgrounds and Alignment: Colorful backgrounds again raise the SPAM scores precipitously. A white background is the lowest scoring color within a creative. Also, most SPAM creatives are centered. We advise that you left align your creatives to make it look more legitimate form of communication. Developing creatives with a white background and aligning the contents to the left, makes your email campaign look less like a SPAM mailing. The combination of these changes i.e. of background and alignment will have a positive effect on your deliverability by decreasing your SPAM score

Text to HTML Ratio: Creatives must have images and text in a creative. A 60-40 rule should always be followed while creating html based creatives. Most SPAM messages are center aligned image only, and hence is a SPAM indicator for various filters.

The second part will continue on this post.

Happy Mailing!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

"You-Centric" vs. "Me-Centric" Part 2

My last entry touched on the subject of "Me-Centric" versus "You-Centric" emails. This entry, Part 2, will be a continuation of the last entry. It will expand on the "You-centric" and "Me-centric" concept.

KobeMail has a few clients that have already made their newsletters You-centric. One example is The Mystery Method. Here is an excerpt out of one of their recent newsletters.

I thought this would make OAP members happy. After all, now you can get immediate advice – news you can use tonight – to cover a sticking point like Qualification or Storytelling and Humor or you can take an hour to upgrade your overall game with an advanced topic like Frame Control or Identity. You can download these directly to your computer, so you can listen to them there, on your iPod, on a CD, or on anything else that plays sound. And, we don’t charge for shipping (obviously).

The Mystery Method has always made an effort to make their emails You-centric and their numbers reflect their efforts. They have grown to an average of 46% open rates on their curriculum emails while experiencing a dramatic improvement in their click through rates -- during 2007. Read on to learn how you can make your emails more You-centric.

In order to utilize email marketing to its fullest potential your emails should be “You-Centric” (customer) and not always Me-Centric (company). The self-absorbed approach to email content and design may not always persuade visitors to become buyers or users. If done in excess, you become another push-sell email in the inbox with the probability of easily getting deleted. Your emails should try to contain information and solutions catering to your users. Take the initiative and add a personal approach to your email making it beneficial to the user. For example mention case studies on how your product/services helped another user. Include the compliments you have received on that product/service.

Studies have shown that going through emails is stressful for people. Users are too busy to deal with certain messages and they consider “fluff” email a waste of time. Remember they are getting messages in their inbox from their boss, colleagues, family and friends. For many people “checking their mail” is a task they want to finish it as quickly as possible. Your email should stand out in that clutter as an email they want to read. Converting glancers into readers of content is probably the toughest job out there. Once you have done that, you have acquired a loyal user and a potential long term buyer.

To fulfill email potential, companies need to view email creation as a user interface design activity even though the majority of email content is text. You can and should combine relevant graphics along with content. However, don’t over do it. The images you display should receive the same consideration and thought as the content displayed. Images can be one of the easiest ways of doing a soft-sell. On the other hand, make sure your content has links and soft-pushes towards your services. At the end of the day, you too need to capitalize and see returns from your emails sent.

Emails are a powerful tool for strengthening customer service, increasing users’ confidence and trust in your company. They allow you to reach out to users in ways that are impossible for websites. Websites sit still and wait for users to approach, but emails can reach out to users. For you to approach, you must go through the acceptance phase where you talk about your user and how beneficial your services are to them.

Email marketing takes time. It is not a quick solution to marketing. It takes planning, testing, measuring and consideration. Email strategy is about building relationships with your users. You don’t rush relationships nor do you abuse them. If you take care of your relationships then you will reap the benefits. Make sure you show your users how important they are to you in 2008. I am sure your customers will appreciate the gratitude.